We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns

Identitfying common ground rather than being antagonistic is the best way to mediate disputes. Picture: Nathaniel Benefield
Identitfying common ground rather than being antagonistic is the best way to mediate disputes. Picture: Nathaniel Benefield
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FINDING common interests is way to mediate, says John Sturrock.

In 1919, a group of industrialists, financiers and traders founded the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and called themselves “the merchants of peace”. They were determined to bring economic prosperity to a world that was still reeling from the devastation of World War I.

Over the years, the ICC has fulfilled that role. Its activities seek to implement the pledge in the ICC’s constitution “to further the development of an open world economy with the firm conviction that international commercial exchanges are conducive to both greater global prosperity and peace among nations”.

In particular, the ICC offers a suite of dispute resolution services that are designed to assist the resolution of disputes that have a commercial or international character. For example, ICC recently issued new Mediation Rules to govern mediations conducted under its auspices.

I have had two recent experiences of this aspect of the ICC’s influence. In one, I conducted a mediation in a Middle Eastern country in which over ten nationalities were involved in a dispute arising in a major construction project worth many hundreds of millions in the local currency.

What struck me most was how much those involved had in common. There were diverse cultural, political, economic and religious backgrounds and yet I was moved on the second day to remind all concerned that we are all “Jock Tamson’s bairns”, a concept that needed little explanation for it to resonate around the room.

Whether in litigation, contractual disputes, family relations or politics, we can tend to focus on that which divides us rather than on that in which we have a common interest. That preoccupation with differences can create or perpetuate problems which then take on their own life in time, costs and stress. Often, we can do better by looking for convergence.

That takes me to my second experience with the ICC. Just a few weeks ago, the organisation hosted its 9th International Commercial Mediation Competition in Paris. I was privileged to be there as one of the professional mediators and judges, joining senior colleagues from around the world. Billed as ICC’s biggest annual educational event, teams represented 66 law and business schools from nearly 40 countries. Over six days, more than 500 young people participated in over 200 mock mediation sessions, training programmes and social events.

I was enormously impressed by the skills, attitude and passion displayed by the next generation. The format required them to negotiate in teams of two in a range of difficult commercial disputes using the mediation process and the availability of an experienced mediator. They had been schooled in interest-based negotiation and understood well that the way to maximise the outcome for the party they represented was to find common ground and convergence rather than to be antagonistic. In their subtlety and intelligent use of problem-solving skills, they would put to shame many an experienced negotiator.

Particularly impressive was the maturity of their engagement and the depth of understanding that we are all, in effect, Jock Tamson’s Bairns. They, at least, understood that we gain more by working together than by polarising and taking adversarial positions. As a result, they secured better outcomes for their notional clients. They built better relationships. They pointed to a more commercially, economically and culturally cohesive future.

These young people from all parts of the globe had much more in common than separated them. Socially and intellectually, there were few borders or territories. Indeed, I began to wonder to what extent, in a global village, traditional boundaries actually matter to the next generation.

My one regret was that there was only one team from the UK, and none from Scotland. I know already that this will be rectified next year. That is good. Whatever happens in September, the coming generations of Scottish business and legal leaders need to be at the table with their colleagues from around the world. We will all benefit.

• John Sturrock is chief executive and senior mediator with Core Solutions Group www.core-solutions.com


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